Cherry picking from past plans to create a vision for Uptown

Imagine a freeway cutting across Minneapolis along 28th Street, all the way from the west side of Uptown to other freeways along Cedar and Hiawatha avenues. Uptown (and Minneapolis as a whole) would have been changed forever. A 1964 plan for Uptown envisioned this new regional connection, which would have funneled shoppers into the area from an interchange at Hennepin & 28th. Once on foot, pedestrians would have crossed Hennepin and Lake on bridges.

Thankfully, this plan did not come to fruition.

Plans can help us understand community trends, challenges and opportunities. Plans can outline various paths to community enhancement or how to resolve problems. While this 1964 plan laid out demographic, spending and transportation trends and opportunities, the actions necessary to change Uptown did not ultimately materialize.

Flash forward to 1991 and a transit study that outlined potential improvements to transit functionality and use in the Uptown area. One recommendation was to add a transit station. That, in fact, did materialize and today it serves as a major transit hub in the region.

Since the late 1990s, there have been over six plans that have impacted the Uptown area. Many of them touch on the same subjects, but through slightly different lenses. There was the Urban Village plan outlining growth opportunities along the Midtown Greenway between Hennepin Avenue and Lyndale Avenue. There was the CARAG Master Plan addressing nearly all aspects of neighborhood life in the CARAG neighborhood. The South Hennepin Strategic Plan looked at the entire Hennepin corridor from Franklin to 36th Street. Add in the Uptown Parking and Transportation Plan, the Midtown Greenway Land Use Study, and the Uptown Small Area Plan, and you’d be forgiven for experiencing planning fatigue. 

It is an amazing amount of work that went into all of these documents, as each had consultants, technical experts, community meetings and plenty of government staff time that went into developing them. Many served as reference materials for when outside action, such as development or infrastructure projects, required a review for consistency with local plans. In their deliberations, policymakers and government staff reflect on how closely proposed actions would fit the recommendations from these documents — often with some controversy and disagreement from parts of the community. 

While necessary in a constantly evolving city, using plans only as reference tools means forgoing implementation of some great ideas — actions or policies that could help resolve challenging conditions in the community; enable businesses and residents to thrive; or generally improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. These plans include specific recommendations that need champions in the community if they ever are to see the light of day.

So we are doing something 

about that.

The Uptown Association recently initiated an effort to review relevant past plans in the Uptown area. The idea is to identify their recommendations, identify what has been done to implement the recommended actions or policies, and to determine which agencies or groups are best poised to transform these recommendations from ideas to reality. In addition, area stakeholders will identify any other issues or opportunities that have since come up.

We are joined in our effort by all of the neighborhood associations adjacent Hennepin-Lake and Hennepin Avenue (CARAG, East Calhoun, East Isles, Lowry Hill East and Lowry Hill), local business associations (South Hennepin Business Association and the Lake Street Council), two Special Service Districts (South Hennepin and Uptown) and the Ward 10 City Council office.

Our goal is to develop a master summary of past recommendations, their current status and relevant opportunities and challenges. From there, we will engage our organizations to prioritize these recommendations in order to lay out a path forward. 

Recent plans have called for studying a return to two-way traffic on West Lake Street; potentially bringing streetcars to the Midtown Greenway and Hennepin Avenue; better managing parking; improving bicycle connections; and adding high quality public open space. Clearly, there are many potential places to start. 

In the end, it is my hope that the community will establish a few priorities for the greater Uptown area so we can focus our energies and make meaningful progress towards implementing them. With our collective efforts, we have the potential to make these carefully crafted plans far more than just reference material.

Thatcher Imboden is a lifelong Southwest resident, now residing in Kenny. He is a development project manager with Southwest-based The Ackerberg Group and blogs at ouruptown.com.